This year, the Republican majority in the General Assembly offered a little relief for those wishing to exercise property rights. They undertook the dissolution of extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJ’s) for a number of municipalities. ETJ’s were, in the name of planning for infrastructure, a way for city and towns to collect indirect taxes, like fees from permits and fines from code enforcement, from people who could not vote in their elections.
One ETJ so dissolved belonged to Weaverville. Josh O’Conner, who serves as zoning administrator for the county, explained NC Session Law 2014-26 gave the county exactly 120 days from July 1 to rezone the properties, or, horror of horrors, the parcels would not be zonable for an unspecified period.
O’Conner continued, stating county staff, parcel by parcel, applied zonings from the county’s codes that most nearly conformed with the zonings Weaverville had assigned them. If anybody in the former ETJ had any concerns about being mis-zoned, the ordinance the commissioners were about to pass would waive any fees applicable to rezonings, provided property owners registered their complaints within 90 days of the passing of the ordinance.
Half a dozen residents voiced concerns during the public comment period at Tuesday’s meeting. Most loved their neighborhoods and did not want the changes to urbanize them or outlaw mobile homes. Representatives from the county assured them – in terms of steep slopes, parcel size, or grandfathering – that things would not change more than they would under Weaverville’s zoning.
Most seriously, Keith Roberts had a complaint about property he owned at 145 Monticello Road. He had just spent six months and untold sums jumping through Weaverville’s hoops to get a commercial zoning. Unfortunately, the person making the new Buncombe County zoning map missed that. She recorded the property as residential.
Representing Roberts before the commissioners, and not for free, attorney Craig Justus asked county leadership to please forgive the scrivener’s error. If they could not do that, he asked that they leave the parcel unzoned for purposes of adopting the map. His client, he said, was about to close on a $2.5 million contract. Reverting the parcel to residential zoning could be a deal breaker.
Following the public hearing, Commission Chair Gantt, as is his custom, followed up in a most orderly fashion by systematically directing questions and concerns collected in his notes to the appropriate staff members. When he came to Roberts’ dilemma, Senior Staff Attorney Mike Frue said he had had “circular discussions” with Justus that concluded in a “dark fog.”
County staff argued they could not correct the scrivener’s error because they would have to advertise the change, and statutory noticing deadlines would then cause the adoption of the map to necessarily be scheduled after the deadline for zoning. In that argument was the presumption that “community rights” trumped traditional property rights. In other words, passersby have more say in what happens to a parcel than the guy who purchases, lives on, maintains, and pays taxes.
Another concern reiterated by county staff was that allowing one property owner to take his parcel off the map, or allowing the county to switch zonings at the last minute, could set a precedent that would open the door for wreaking havoc on all future zoning maps. As words were multiplied, the prevailing sentiments appeared to be that people existed to protect the law, not vice versa.
Commissioner Mike Fryar, more inclined to listen to the people than the planners, piped up. “Zoning is supposed to help, but it looks like it’s hurting.” The commissioners were about to create an imminent, albeit personal, hazard to avoid a potential one. He acknowledged the presence of a Van Winkle attorney in the audience and cautioned he and his peers may be seeing him again in court. He and Commissioner Joe Belcher were outnumbered in voting to cut Roberts some slack.
As of this writing, the parcel remains advertised for sale. The listing on showcase.com describes it as, “approximately 17 acres of level to gently rolling land presently zoned R-3; should be good candidate for rezoning.”
In another matter, the commissioners unanimously approved appropriating $325,000 from the county stash toward construction of a housing development. The City of Asheville is expected to pitch in another $159,000. The project was aimed at addressing a few of the remaining housing needs requisite for Asheville’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness to live up to its name.
Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone told how only 36 or 37 dually-diagnosed people on the streets are gobbling up county resources. One person was booked into the county jail 25 times last year, spending 215 days at a cost of $23,005 to taxpayers. Another was booked 77 times, spending 30 days at a cost of $35,301. Some of the 36 or 37 visit the emergency room 30 or more times a year; one running up a bill of $100,000. All told, the annualized cost for getting these 36 or 37 to services is $2,300,000.
Emphasizing the reduction in costs, Stone presented the plans for a development based on Moore Place in Charlotte. Located toward the south end of New Leicester Highway, Oak Hill Commons would be a mixed-income development, home to 38 workforce-income families, 13 recipients of Section 8 and VASH vouchers, and 24 from the “hard-to-house” community.
The “hard-to-house” will have their own building with wraparound services and 24-hour security. Benefits cited included reduction in county service utlization, provision of role models for the” hard-to-house,” and anticipated increases in earnings potential among residents. Leveraging Medicaid reimbursement was not viewed as a drain on the federal deficit so much as an influx of dollars into the region.